Arizona entered the NCAA Tournament as one of the last teams selected. So far, they’re making the best of it as they face No. 1 seeded Louisville in the Sweet 16 on Friday.
The Wildcats have made it to the dance 25 straight years—two short of the record. They’ve never been seeded lower than they are this year and they’ve probably never had as many doubters as they did entering game one.
Seeded at No. 12, Arizona faced No. 5 seed Utah. The doubters (including myself) figured this to be a walk in the park for Utah, but Arizona’s big three, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, and Nic Wise had it figured differently. They scored 20, 17, and 29 points respectively, and led their team to a 84-71 win.
Next up was No. 13 Cleveland State who just shocked Wake Forest and knocked the Demon Deacons out of the tournament. Again, Budinger, Hill, and Wise carried their team with 15, 16, and 21 points respectively and the Wildcats won 71-57.
So what’s next for Arizona after having not been given much of a chance after slipping in to the dance? How about No. 1 seed Louisville. Once again, the doubters are starting to write an end to Arizona’s dance. Not me. Not this time. I believe they have a chance.
During the first two games, Arizona shot 48 percent from the field while Louisville shot just over 50 percent. Both teams held their opponents under 40 percent from the field—Arizona’s opponents shot 34 percent and Louisville’s shot 38 percent.
The Cardinals love to press and get up and down the court—as does Arizona. But, with the exception of the second half versus Morehead State, Louisville’s press hasn’t seemed to work. If they cannot get their press working early, they may be in for a close game.
Nic Wise has been hot during the tournament thus far. He may just be the
X-factor for an Arizona win. Wise needs another great game, keep his turnovers down, and help Budinger and Hill get good shot selections.
A second X-factor? The Arizona bench. While the big three for Arizona have played well, the team will have to get more production from its bench if they expect to have a chance at beating Louisville.
So, while I figured Arizona to be one of the first gone of the six Pac-10 teams to make the tournament, I’m now giving them a real shot at knocking off top seed Louisville.
Not because they are the only Pac-10 team left, but because they are playing good ball and I think they match up well with the Cardinals.